To better understand how constantly changing human-environment interactions could be better organized to respond to current challenges, we examined the Ukrainian Carpathians as an example case of complex forest social-ecological systems (FSES). We did it by interviewing diverse and relevant local stakeholder (N=450). In particular, we strived to: i) outline how people and nature are linked and interact in coupled FSES; ii) examine the preferences of stakeholders on the forests and associated ecosystem services (ES); iii) map key drivers threatening well-being of FSES and iv) identify potential responses to address the challenges at a local scale. To answer these questions we followed a mixed method route by integrating qualitative (participatory) and quantitative data collection and analyses, with further application of a Driving Force-Pressure-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) framework in combination with the ES approach in order to assess benefits, threats to these benefits, and responses regarding the studied FSES. We found that the key benefit from FSES is timber and non-wood forest products (like berries and mushrooms), but also various regulating services were ranked highly by respondents. To explore social-ecological innovation, with potential responses of forest-dependent communities to challenges they face, we employed a commonly used assumption that governance must fit to the particular characteristics of FSES in order to enable sustainability. For the particular case of the Ukrainian Carpathians, we identified and discussed the following five nonconformities or "misfits" threatening sustainability: 1) Spatial misfit in legislation; 2) Poor contextualization; 3) Trap of the single ES; 4) Participatory misfit; and 5) Robbing the commons. By conceptualizing those key threats, we proposed responses for sustainability. The findings contributed to an advanced understanding of complex FSES, their key challenges and potential solutions in order to secure well-being of people and nature in coupled social-ecological systems, in the conditions of a changing world.
Keywords: Forest ecosystem services; Marginalised rural areas; Multifunctional forestry; Ukrainian Carpathians; Well-being.
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